For some babies, it’s a rattle or a stuffed animal they grab when they figure out how to use their hands. For Will Oberholtzer, it was probably a tennis racket.
The Haddonfield Memorial High School junior comes from a long line of tennis players. His father, Marc, also played under long-time Haddonfield coach Jeff Holman. His grandfather also still plays the sport, too.
His older brothers, Max and Sam, starred on Haddonfield’s last state championship teams and helped the Bulldawgs advance to the Tournament of Champions finals in 2014. Max Oberholtzer continued his tennis career at Ursinus College. Sam Oberholtzer and his high school doubles partner Isaak Anderson are the only players in the history of Haddonfield’s program to win a state doubles championship.
“The whole family has been very supportive, which I think is a source of strength to Will,” Holman said of the younger Oberholtzer, who will be a name to watch in this month’s South Jersey Tennis Coaches Tournament in Vineland, which begins on May 18. “They’re there for him, they’re very positive with him and I think that’s going to help in anything he does.”
Oberholtzer is undefeated in conference play this season. But his goal is to take the Bulldawgs as far as his brothers did during their high school careers.
“It would be an honor to do that,” he said. “That is my main goal in my high school career, to follow in their footsteps and bring a state championship to Haddonfield. … Since I’ve been in fifth grade I’ve been watching this high school team, so I’ve been excited since I was a kid to join this team and it’s motivated me to try and win a state championship.”
With Oberholtzer penciled in at first singles until 2020, Haddonfield has a fighting chance.
“Anytime you get someone who’s ready to play first singles as a freshman you feel very fortunate, you have someone ready to make a contribution to the team,” Holman said. “He’s gotten more solid all-around (since his freshman year), been more consistent, gotten a more powerful serve, become a more effective net player by closing in more and cutting off the other player’s angles, he’s gotten more power on his shots. So as he goes on, just being more consistent (is the key).”
Oberholtzer talked to South Jersey Sports Weekly following a recent match.
South Jersey Sports Weekly: How long have you been playing?
Will Oberholtzer: I started playing tennis when I was around 5 years old. I’ve been around tennis my whole life, I think when I was a few weeks old I watched my dad (Marc) playing tennis.
SJSW: Are your brothers also lefties?
Oberholtzer: No, I’m the only lefty. My grandpop (Vernon) plays, too, and he’s left-handed. He still plays, he’s pretty good.
SJSW: Is there an advantage to being a lefty?
Oberholtzer: I have a kick serve that helps a lot and a slice serve out wide on the ad side, which goes to my opponents, if they’re right-handed, their backhand. Even if they can see it coming, there’s not much they can do with it going to the backhand of the court, so I use that to my advantage a lot.
SJSW: Your dad also played for Jeff Holman at Haddonfield. What do you like most about your coach?
Oberholtzer: It’s just his dedication, he’s dedicated his whole life to this. The amount of time he puts in, all of the tournaments he runs. And all of the weekends he sacrifices, it’s a lot for anyone to do, and he’s been doing it for how ever many years (since 1976).
SJSW: Are you going to play tennis in college?
Oberholtzer: I want to, yeah. Obviously it’s not set in stone but it’s something I’d like to do. My brother (Max) went to Ursinus and I’ve talked to their coach a lot.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite pro player to watch?
Oberholtzer: I like to watch most of them, (Roger) Federer is fun to watch the way he moves on the court is something … I’m terrible at movement and struggle to get my legs going. To see him fly across the court. (Novak) Djokovic is great, (Andy) Murray when he’s healthy, they’re great to watch, especially when any of those guys are playing each other.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite pro athlete in another sport?
Oberholtzer: Not really, I like to watch a ton of different sports. I just look at the guys that carry themselves on the court and play with respect and honor. They’re the guys I look up to. Federer plays with a ton of honor and respect. JJ Redick, I like him. Carson Wentz carries himself on the field well and plays with a lot of honor and is respected on and off the field.
SJSW: Who on your Haddonfield team would you consider your funniest teammate?
Oberholtzer: Our captain, Teo Lupinetti. But it’s actually a really goofy team, up and down it’s a team of characters.
SJSW: How about your smartest teammate?
Oberholtzer: Oh, boy. Can I actually do two? Our second doubles. They have SAT scores of a 1590 and a 1540. Pierre Yan and Mo Jishi. They don’t really like to flex their intelligence, but you can just see how intelligent they are. I remember we were playing Gateway a week ago and their coach is a math teacher. They heard Pierre got a 1590 and he asked him how to do a question. And he was saying I’d do this, raise this side to the two-thirds power. He was like, “Oh, I didn’t see it that way.”
SJSW: Makes me think of “Good Will Hunting.” Some people are just geniuses. Is there anyone in South Jersey you like playing against?
Oberholtzer: The guys I’ve played a ton, like Lars Jespersen of Schalick, I’ve played him three or four times and we have good matches every time. Peter Leese of Moorestown. We’ve been playing since I was around 10 years old. They bring the best out of me.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite movie?
Oberholtzer: I’d say “Happy Gilmore” just because of how cheesy and funny it is.
SJSW: How about a TV show?
Oberholtzer: When I was a kid, I watched a ton of those Nickelodeon shows like “Drake & Josh.” My brothers and I like to make references to that, “iCarly” and “SpongeBob,” too.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite book?
Oberholtzer: I enjoyed “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I read that freshman year. “Kite Runner” is good, too. Those two are the kind that make you open your eyes and think about things.
SJSW: Do you have a favorite subject at Haddonfield?
Oberholtzer: It’s hard to say, I think our school has a ton of good programs. It’d be tough to pick one. Our history department is really strong, we have a lot of good teachers. U.S. History is pretty interesting.
SJSW: Do you know what you want to study in college or not that far along yet?
Oberholtzer: Not that far yet. But I’m thinking something with sports. That’s my greatest interest and passion.